Singing Down Live

music, music business, music industry

We happened to flick over to the MTV Movie Awards last night before Game of Thrones (it’s back!!!). Fall Out Boy were performing “Centuries”, a song we previously posted about. Straight away it was obvious that they had pitched the song down a couple keys or so. This is pretty common practice, Rihanna is an artist that does it all the time and we’re not saying there’s anything wrong it- but it’s interesting how often it happens nowadays.

The key of a song is often dictated by the energy it brings to a chord progression and also the range of the vocalist. There are certain artists we work with that sound great in particular keys so we write songs to match. Conversely we may write a song and have to change the key because it just sounds better a few steps up (we have some pretty amusing demo vocals where we sound like chipmunks after pitching them up).

The problem a lot of vocalists run into now is that us tricky producers and engineers are able to tune and tweak the hell out of their recordings to make them sound great in the key that brings the best out of the song. We say this is a problem because this can’t be done live and artists have to reproduce a vocal that sounds close to the original without all the processes we have available in the studio. To counter this, the artist will sing the song down a few keys which to most people goes unnoticed but it can often make the song drag because it loses that energy we mentioned earlier. Take a song like Sia’s “Chandelier”, the way she hits those high notes is what makes the song. If she were to sing it down a couple keys it would lose that intensity and her voice wouldn’t sparkle quite as much. We haven’t seen her do this live so can’t comment as to whether she does it in its original key or not though.

This is often a conversation we have with artists in the studio, “just remember you have to sing this live, are you sure you want to go to THAT note?”. There’s nothing worse than someone’s vocal ability being exposed live because they don’t have the technology to mask their flaws. There are cases where it may be necessary because the singer is sick and his voice is compromised but for the most part the song gets pitched down because the singer just can’t perform it in its original key.

We’re not arguing for or against the decision to do this but it is something listeners should become more aware of, particularly as it’s happening more often. Does it mean the singer isn’t as good as we thought they were? No, not necessarily. It’s just becoming more apparent now that a lot of work goes on in the studio to make a song sound the way it does and without the technology or techniques producers use, an artist may not be able to deliver what we thought they could.

Just some food for thought, listen out for it, when you see a song being performed on tv or online, pull out your phone and play the song along with it and you’ll hear if they’re singing down or not. Betcha it happens more often than you realize!

-HS

Original Content

music, music business, music industry

It’s surprising that music hasn’t caught up with TV yet when it comes to original content. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and other TV/movie subscription services all create their own content as part of their USP (check us out with the marketing jargon). Why haven’t music services done the same? Spotify, iTunes et al have yet (as far as we’re aware) to create their own original content, sure they’ve signed exclusivity agreements, which is smart- we’re now seeing Tidal do it too- but it’s not the same as original content and here’s why..

Streaming services (should) have vast amounts of data about their users’ preferences when it comes to the type of music they enjoy, the time of year they play certain songs, the instruments that were used, the tempos etc so why not utilize that like Netflix did when they created House of Cards? They looked at the type of movies and TV shows people were watching- did they like suspenseful drama? was there humor in the one popular thriller, if so how much? How important were sex scenes or nudity? What was the lighting like in those movies? So many variables were analyzed and used to create the script and direction of the show. Look how popular the show is, it’s no accident!! It was created for mass consumption and people have eaten it up.  

Using data in a similar fashion could help write and produce the perfect song for certain genres. Imagine figuring out which key of song, chord progressions etc listeners gravitate to the most and crafting a track around that? Sure you might say it takes the creativity out of making music but the opposite could be argued. Less parameters mean you have to be more creative to make your song stand out. 

Now, we’re not arguing to make all music sound the same but if you want people to hear your music (why else do you do it?) then why not make it appeal to as many people as possible? If people haven’t latched on to your song in say, Germany, it could be for the simple reason that the German market don’t like 1 minute instrumental bridges like yours or that it’s the wrong time of year for that style of song there. If you knew to make those changes or wait for the best time to release the song you could save yourself money on marketing because you’ll know when to release and also be more confident it will gain traction. If a streaming service produce a song or an album that appeals to Germany, all of a sudden they’ll have more subscribers in that market. 

That’s just one of many examples of how creating original content using their data can really set a service apart from its rivals and lure in fans. Things like this could already be in the works but for now we’ll leave y’all with the idea, who knows, we may see it sooner than we think. 

-HS

The Value of Music

music, music business, music industry

How much do you value music? It’s pretty amazing that the conversation about people consuming music for free is still happening. We live in a world where people pay $4 for a cup of coffee once, sometimes twice, a day yet won’t stump up $9.99 a month to listen to virtually any release they want. It’s crazy!!

This isn’t about money and getting rich, it’s about worth. The music we make has worth, or at least it should. Yet people are happy to disregard that and listen to a shit quality version on YouTube (and in most cases sit through an ad before it) instead of paying a pretty small fee (in the scheme of things) to consume music on demand and through their subscription pay the people who own those songs. Why does this happen? When did music stop being that thing we spent hours talking about or digging through new releases in record stores? (or online- how many people these days actively try to discover new music on iTunes or Spotify etc?). How have we become a society that will pay $6 for a bottle of water but won’t pay for art that can change your mood instantly, help you re-live memories and take you on an emotional rollercoaster? (thanks Jay-Z for that analogy).

People see the value in movies and TV shows- they’re willing to pay for subscriptions to cable, premium TV networks, online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu- so why not music? Why are we spending $60-$100 on video games, $30+ on TV boxsets, $700 on iPhones, iPads etc yet won’t pay for music? It comes back to worth- people don’t value music anymore and that’s a shame.

We’re pretty sceptical about TIDAL’s re-launch being the savior of artistry as some have branded it. It’s not really changing the game- it will still pay out the same percentages (have a look at the Jay-Z article above, they don’t talk specifics and essentially say if you have a record deal you’re still beholden to the crappy terms of that deal anyway). But what it is doing is bringing streaming to the attention of listeners who may not have been thinking about it. The downloads business model is dead, it didn’t work. It may have sustained the transition music was going through as it moved online but streaming is where it’s at. It’s now all about volume, MORE PEOPLE MEANS MORE MONEY. Vania Schlogel of TIDAL even said so in the aforementioned article that it’s about growing the pie (or pizza as she described it). As the size of the pie grows so does everyone’s slice. Netflix has more subscribers than all music streaming subscription services, when music catches up with TV and Film the money will come back.

We just need people to value music again. You can’t get a good glass of wine for less than $10 and for that price you have a month’s worth of music. From now on it’s all about drilling that message home. Music needs to be valued again. So much goes into making music (as you’ve hopefully seen from our site) and it’s about time we showed the artists and creators that we appreciate the work they’ve put in.

-HS

Behind the Music: Fall Out Boy- “Centuries”

music, music business, music industry

We’re posting this video for a couple of reasons- firstly we found it interesting and secondly this is along the lines of the type of videos we’re going to produce (eventually) so wanted to see how many hits we get on it.

It’s always cool to hear about how songs were produced as a lot of decision making goes into sound choices, arrangements and writing etc that you just don’t know about until you are told.

If you don’t know who JR Rotem is, Google him, he’s left quite a legacy already.

Check out the video!

Jay-Z’s TIDAL and Higher Quality Audio

music, music business, music industry

We just saw this piece on Billboard about Jay-Z owned music streaming service TIDAL. We have nothing to comment on the content of the article but it did get us thinking about TIDAL and other high quality streaming services. Do we really need them? 

Let’s face it- the internet, laptops and mobile devices have killed music quality. As producers and engineers it’s soul destroying to spend so much time on a mix only for it to be played out of some shitty laptop speakers or those tiny little holes in your phone. All those nuances and adjustments to the sound get lost when they get played on those systems (where the hell did our bass go?!). Of course as engineers we have to mix a song to play across all formats but there is no avoiding the discrepancies in sound quality across the wide range of devices people consume music on. The other issue is that people tend to use the EQ presets on their systems that essentially turn the bass and treble up. This means we have to mix songs to counter that- keep the bass a little lower than usual and have the vocals a little louder than you would on a flat EQ setup. The trouble you run into there is that not everyone uses the same presets so it’s a guessing game as to whether your song is gonna sound like shit or not (this is particularly worrying when we visit A&R offices- there is one guy who runs a big label that uses computer speakers with a big subwoofer and the first time we played our stuff for him we were both cringing at how overpowering the bass sounded. Every time we see him now we keep the bass a little lower on the mix to counter this!). 

Now, having said all of that, the average listener can’t identify any of that. They don’t hear music through the same ears that folks who make music do. When producers or engineers hear music they are constantly analyzing it (it actually makes it a little harder to enjoy it if we’re honest). It’s the same for people who are in video when watching TV or movies, if something’s not quite right you notice it and it bugs the hell out of you. Without fail when we play our songs to our wives, families or close friends there is always the comment that they can’t tell the difference from the demo and the final iterations of our mixes- sometimes they even prefer the demo because they got so used to hearing it! This isn’t supposed to sound snobby or elitist but it’s true- music quality isn’t as important to the masses. This is why TIDAL and other HQ streaming services will remain niche products. There’s nothing wrong with that but for most consumers the quality that Spotify, Pandora and other services use is more than fine and they won’t pay a premium for better quality. Have a look in your settings on the streaming service you use (you do have one right? It’s 2015…) and most likely it’s set to 96kbit/s or 128kbit/s. For context, CD quality is about 320kbit/s. You’ve gone this whole time not caring and probably thinking it sounded great, which it most likely did! Spotify offers the use of 320kbit/s and we’re sure the others do too, so why pay double for more than CD quality?

TIDAL and the other HQ services offer what is called lossless audio. Basically what happens when an MP3 file is created is that the program takes out pieces of information that is deemed unnecessary (how much gets taken out depends on the bitrate- this is why 320kbit/s is better than 96kbit/s- more information per second means less needs to be taken out). The reason lower bitrates are used is to keep the file sizes down, pretty useful for streaming or storing multiple files on a phone as it requires less space. Lossless files don’t take anything out so are exactly the same as the original files. This has its obvious benefits as the sound quality is how the creator intended it but we challenge most people to notice the differences between a high quality MP3 and lossless file when not listening on high end systems. If you can hear the differences they’re really not that substantial and for most wouldn’t motivate them to pay a premium for it. 

We have nothing against TIDAL but just question whether consumers will utilize its lossless streaming because as we’ve learnt first hand, the average listener can’t tell the difference- especially on the systems that are typically used now. It definitely has it’s place with the hifi crowds but for most, they’ll stick with the cheaper services who do a fine job already.  

Just something to think about. 

-HS

Beat Jacking

music, music business, music industry

Came across this story about DJ Mustard allegedly taking this guy Mike Free’s beats and not crediting him properly. Again we want to stress ‘allegedly’ as nothing has been ruled yet but this shit happens ALL THE TIME in the music business. It’s one reason we refuse to work under another producer’s name, we’ve actually turned down a few offers. There is one exception, when we’ve collaborated with Full Force, but those guys are family and the deal is upfront and clear for everyone. 

Here’s what happens. Top tier Producers can’t keep up with the workload. They want to take their huge fees from the labels but it’s impossible to realistically do more than a few songs a week (we’re talking finished songs). What these guys will do is have people make tracks (instrumentals) or sometimes full songs for them and then put their twist on it and produce it under their name. Usually they will pay a set fee to those producers (usually in the $3000-$5000 range) if the song gets placed and take the rest for themselves. This actually works to both parties’ advantage as the big name producer gets to put out more work and make more money while the unknown beat maker gets songs released that would otherwise have been ignored by the labels were it not for the big name being attached. Check the credits of the music in the Top 40 and you’ll find countless songs where the big name producer has a collaborator or co producer. This usually means the collaborator did most of the creative side and the big name came in and essentially did some quality control, put their flavor on it and got it out the door. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it can stifle the progression of some producers. The big name may not want to let their ‘underling’ go under their own name or brand because it means less money and work for them and the lesser known producer may feel they need the big name attached to get recognized- and the cycle continues. 

The trouble comes when those beat makers aren’t looked after properly because the big name producer gets greedy or his management don’t handle the finances appropriately. Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding, but usually if it gets to court it means the producer who feels hard done by has already tried to get what they deserve to no avail. 

Just something to think about when you listen to music produced by the big names. Check the credits and decipher what it really means. 

-HS

From Demo to Release- Do U Want Me (I Want U)

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We came across this old old version of 3AM Tokyo’s “Do U Want Me (I Want U)” the other day and thought we’d share it to show the difference in where the idea starts and finishes.

This version of the song was just after we had recorded guitars and bass on top of the initial chord structure and beat we had laid down. We hadn’t written the topline yet and this was the point where we began adding more sounds and instrumental melodies in. The trick is to make sure the instrumental parts you add don’t influence the vocal too much otherwise you’ll end up writing a melody that just follows the music (this can be good in some cases but most of the time it’ll make the song way too repetitive). That’s why we often leave it pretty sparse for writers- ourselves or others- to create lyrics and melodies before we add in more parts.

Songs are very rarely done all at once in the studio, we have two setups that have different sets of sounds and keyboards that we go between and in terms of mixing we listen to mixes in every system we can, going into 5 different cars, multiple sound systems etc to check for consistencies. There really isn’t a set structure of what the song needs and which sequence it needs to be done in either, as you can hear in this one we started with a beat and a chord structure and had the band play their stuff over it before we developed it further. Other songs we may have had the vocal already cut, the sound bed laid down and just needed a couple more elements like the guitar and bass to finish it off.

We’ll let you hear for yourselves the difference between the raw version and the final version and let you try and pick out all the stuff that was changed or added. Bare in mind we hadn’t done much editing to the guitar or bass parts either.

Enjoy

Raw Idea:

Finished Version:

-HS

New Music Tuesday

music, music business, music industry

That time of the week again folks. Our pick is Flo Rida’s “My House”. He’s gone for a more hip hop/pop vibe as opposed to the faster dance stuff he’s been doing of late.

Flo Rida is someone we’ve been trying to get with for a while but for one reason or another the timing hasn’t been right. What we mean by that is there can be situations where as a producer/writer you present a song to the label and they say it would be a great fit for their artist only for it to not work with the rest of the songs on the project. They won’t pay for studio time to record the song unless they know they’re going to use it so you end up having to wait (unless you have a relationship with the artist already). Then when the next project roles around either your song is dated or still doesn’t fit where the artist is heading. A similar situation that is all too familiar to us is that the label loves a song that doesn’t fit the project but off the back of it want you involved. You go back and forth with them to meet their briefs but then when you finally nail it, it’s too late. Usually by the time you hear about a project they only need one or two more songs so it’s really easy to miss the cut off date.

Anyways, enough about us, go ahead and check the song out!

-HS

#tbt..frowback friday

music, music business, music industry

A day late we know but on a technicality Paolo says ‘throwback’ as ‘frowback’.. so deal with it 🙂

This one really is a throwback and the only reason we came across it is that we needed to look at something on the website yesterday and started typing in ‘heatseekerz’ on the Chrome address bar- the first suggestion was ‘heatseekerz bad boy’. We were horrified! Google was suggesting people check out a demo we did in 2009 that we never mixed for commercial release and was only online because we had it placed on Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club.

When we first met, Picasso sent Paolo home with a CD (how times have changed) with 7 instrumental ideas he had lying around. We ended up recording songs for all of them and Bad Boy was the first of those. Larisa (go check her out on Facebook and Soundcloud) came in to record the vocals and help write the rest of the song, including the dreaded second verse (songwriters know what we’re talking about!!). What came out was pretty dope, despite the horrible demo mix and outdated sounds, but you get the idea.

Check it out and less us know what you think on Facebook/Twitter!

-HS

No More Week

music

No More Week kicked off on Sunday, with USA network airing PSA’s from the organization during their Law & Order SVU marathon.

You’ve probably heard of No More from their work with the NFL and of course you read our previous post about them..their continued hard work is helping educate us about domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s worth mentioning that No More isn’t a fundraising outfit, you can’t donate to them, they partner with other foundations and corporations to help focus the message (sometimes when there’s too many voices none can be heard).

Domestic violence and sexual assault happen far more than people are aware of, or willing to acknowledge. We really encourage you to head over to No More’s website.. http://nomore.org/ and take 5-10minutes to learn more about these issues. The statistics are pretty alarming, as shown in the video above. We did this PSA in 2013 and are proud to stand alongside No More. Credit to Charles Kliment for producing and creating the visuals, we simply added the music and voiceover- the message is what really matters.

We are HeatSeekerz and we say No More.

-HS